When martial artists think of throws, they often think of judo, and if you say “shoulder throw,” they will generally think of judo’s ippon seoi nage (single point carry-on-the-back throw) and morote seoi nage (double carry-on-the-back throw), which are often called single/double “shoulder throws.” While classical karate does contain a throw similar to seoi otoshi (carry-on-the-back drop), which is a variation of ippon/morote seoi nage, that is not the throw that this article will be looking at. Instead, we will be studying what Itoman Morinobu called kata-nage (shoulder throws) in his book, The Study of China Hand Techniques.
Itoman said that, in toudi (China hand), there are two types of shoulder throws–the single arm version, and the double arm version. The former may be better known to modern karateka as Funakoshi’s yari-dama (spear ball), while the latter is better known as judo’s kata-guruma (shoulder wheel). The throws are classified together, as they are very similar in what they do to the opponent, although the mechanics are different.
The single arm shoulder throw can most easily be seen at the end of Pinan/Heian Sandan, although other kata may also contain movements that could be applied in this fashion. In particular, the entry into this throw can be found in several kata, where one hand is in a jodan-uke (high receiver) position and the other hand is in a gedan-barai (low sweep) position. Personally, I prefer this throw over the one typically used as an application for Wansu/Enpi, which is preceded by that posture. As shown by Itoman, the karateka moves to the inside of the attack, grabs the attacking limb with one hand while scooping under the crotch with the other, and turns the opponent to throw them. You can do this without stepping, but stepping makes the throw easier.
The double arm shoulder throw is most commonly used as an application for the yama-gamae (mountain posture) sequence in Wansu/Enpi, and sometimes Kusanku/Kanku. As you can see, it is essentially the same as kata-guruma. Despite my judo experience, I am not terribly fond of this throw, and find it to be much more difficult for most students to do than the single arm shoulder throw. This is because you must lift the opponent and carry them on your back for a moment, unless they are really charging at you. This throw can also be done by dropping to one knee, or even both knees, however, which makes the throw much easier to do, since you don’t have to lift the opponent. As with the single arm version, the karateka moves to the inside of the attack, but then ducks his head underneath the attacking arm, putting himself into position to load the attacker onto his shoulders.